Beer history

Sucker juice of 1953

The Queen, 1953.
“One would like to get a round in — who’s having what? And four bags of scratchings, two dry-roasted and a couple of pickled eggs?”

On 25 November 1952, the following story ran in the Guardian:

There is to be a special strong beer for the Coronation, it was announced by Mr F.J. Bearman, chairman of the panel of beer judges at the Brewery and Allied Traders Exhibition… ‘Almost every brewery in the country is brewing a Coronation beer. Its gravity will be about .60 compared with .33 for the average beer to-day,’ he said… The Coronation beer will be bottled and… cost about 2s 6d a nip bottle.

There were outraged responses to this news from both puritans — ‘The brewers are assuming that the British people will need double-strength beer… to celebrate the Queen’s solemn act of dedication to the service of God’ — and presumably from drinkers, as the brewers were accused of profiteering from the Coronation.

The Brewers’ Society stated yesterday: ‘Any suggestion that brewery companies will be making big profits from Coronation ales is completely unwarranted. These special brews are uneconomic to produce. They involve changes in the brewery routine, special labels, and sometimes special bottles… The demand for them is very difficult to predict. The purpose in brewing them is to give people something special in which to drink the Queen’s health.’ (Guardian, 4 December 1952.)

Several months later, the brewers were fully on the back foot, and having to explain why they wouldn’t be giving away free beer in their pubs on Coronation Day: ‘What brewers have to pay in tax alone out of sums for licensed house improvement would pay for seven or eight pints of free beer for every adult in the country’. The same Brewers’ Society spokesman also pointed out how difficult a ‘free beer’ scheme would be to administer: some drinkers might be tempted to claim six free pints in one pub, then move on to another and start afresh, and then another… (Guardian, 21 May 1953.)

Today, brewers are still asked to defend the prices of their limited edition, specially packaged, ‘event’ beers, and they still rely on similar sounding arguments.

4 replies on “Sucker juice of 1953”

“… and they still rely on similar sounding arguments.” That’s generally because these reasons do have a basis in truth. I’ll give an example. We currently pay £0.06p a label for our regular beers. For Rhetoric we pay about £0.30p a label. We buy 30,000 labels at a time for our normal beers. We order 2,000 a time for a one off.

That extra £0.24p has to come from somewhere.

Limited edition beers are generally stronger.

The duty payment on a bottle of Continuum is £0.13p on Rhetoric it’s about £0.50p

We’ve already got to £0.75p per bottle extra cost to manufacture without all the very genuine cost implications of the length of time in tank, interruption to production etc, etc, etc. You also have to remember that business looses money if ALL it does is pass on cost of manufacture. There simply has to be an incentive to do something, else there is no point being in business. I guess that’s what all you none business people see as dirty profit, and what we business people see as the reason for existing at all.

But, at the end of the day, the right price for beer is a balance between what the drinker is prepared to pay and the price the brewer is prepared to sell it for. I will only do limited edition beers if they make me money.

I’ll only make high strength beers if they make me money. I’ll only take a risk and do something a little bit different if I think it might make me money.

And if the drinker doesn’t want to pay it, that’s my problem.

Dave — hello! We were just thinking about you as we’ve got a response to your “What is beer innovation?” post due today.

There are two ways for brewers like yourself to handle criticism around price/profiteering: one is openness, which is the route you seem to prefer; and the other is to bat it away and carry on regardless. As observers and consumers, we prefer the former, but the the second (more arrogant?) approach can be quite effective, too.

“And if the drinker doesn’t want to pay it, that’s my problem.”

Most refreshing statement from a brewer on special releases ever.

You have to put beer strength into context. I’m too lazy to look up the exact date just now, but the average gravity of beer had been set by the government during the war and for several years after. The coronation in 1952 was an occasion when there was the possibility and the excuse to brew a strong beer again after years of barely-alcoholic stuff. It’s been seen as a turning point by some. Martyn, I think. I’d need more data to say anything so definite.

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